Pub Rants

Words of Wisdom From Julie The Intern

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STATUS: It feels a little disconcerting to “get back to business” after the historic win last night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? JUST CAN’T GET ENOUGH by Depeche Mode

Over the years, Sara and I have received numerous requests from folks interesting in interning at the agency. Well, we considered ourselves a pretty well-oiled machine (cough)—okay maybe a creaky slow machine—but in other words, we felt like we had our processes down and we didn’t see a good role for an intern.

Until the superintendent of Denver Public Schools called us earlier this summer asking if we’d consider one of their high school students. Now how can we say no to DPS? Both Sara and I believe that it’s our civic duty to teach and mentor young people so for the first time in our history, Nelson Literary Agency took on an intern.

And we are so glad we did. Julie has been wonderful to have these past months and in even better news, she’s willing to share with you blog readers some of things she has learned.

So, in her own words (and not edited by us), here are a couple of blog entries from our intern.

My name is Julie. I’m a high school student doing an internship at the Nelson Literary Agency who hopes to one day be a writer. My time at the agency has been a great learning experience. While I knew I wanted to be a writer for awhile, I was completely clueless as far as the business aspect was concerned. In my naive mind I thought it was as simple as sending in your manuscript to a publishing company and hoping for the best. The literary world is far more complicated. Here are a few rules I have learned through my observations on query letters and sample pages:

Don’t go out of your comfort level. Don’t write about an Alaskan wilderness survivor if you know nothing about Alaska or wilderness survival. The readers interested in your work will be able to tell if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Focus. If your main character has an evil twin who is a time traveling wizard that only gains power by eating muffins baked by her long lost lover’s ghost, that is a lot to digest in one story.

You’re a writer, so write. Writing is the biggest part of the battle, so complete your work. That might seem like a stupid thing to say, but several people that we have asked to see sample pages and even full manuscripts have said they can’t because they haven’t finished. Don’t even worry about going on to the next step if you don’t have your manuscript finished and polished.

Decide what genre your work is, and search accordingly. There are several websites listing agents, but it’s not as simple as sending a query letter to the first one you find. It might take awhile to find an agent that fits what you write, but it’s better to send to five agents who represent your type of book then ten that don’t.

Submission guidelines, need I say more? I can’t count how many query letters we receive that have their own idea as to what should be sent. If the agent wants five sample pages right away, then send them. But never assume one agent wants the same information as another. That goes for sending method, too. If an agent only wants email, only send email. At the Nelson Agency we don’t even look at a query letter if it’s sent by snail mail.

Agents are really helpful, and I’m not just saying that because I work with one. October was big on royalty statements, and if anyone ever has a question to the usefulness of agents, this is the time to prove their worth. Not only are contracts a pain in themselves that an average writer would never know a thing about, royalty statements are the follow up kick in the rear. Agents have to study the statements to ensure their clients are getting what they should be based off of their contract. That means lots of pages with lots of complicated jargon.

24 Responses

  1. Lucy said:

    “Focus. If your main character has an evil twin who is a time traveling wizard that only gains power by eating muffins baked by her long lost lover’s ghost, that is a lot to digest in one story.”

    Love it. 🙂 Julie, whichever you become, writer or literary agent, I look forward to seeing you in the community.

  2. Anonymous said:

    Julie sounds like such a mature and intelligent young woman. I have no doubt she’ll go far in life.

  3. Jessica said:

    Great post, Julie! I’m so jealous. If I’d known there were such people as agents, I would have loved to intern.
    You sound like you’re really making the most of it!
    Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂

  4. martha said:

    I’m very glad you finally agreed to host an intern. For many years, part of my job at the Kuressaare Vocational School was to find and supervise practical placements for our students. Theory – no matter how well taught – will only take a learner so far. There needs to be a chance to apply the theory to real world situations. You and your agency should be applauded for giving Julie her chance.

  5. Carrie said:

    This is a wonderful thing you are doing, and kudos to the Superintendent for making the initial contact. As a writer and a high school teacher, I am sitting here with a huge grin on my face. Way to go.

  6. Anonymous said:

    All great advice, Julie. Good luck to you.

    … The only caveat I’d suggest is that writers write about things they don’t “know” about all the time — it’s just that the good ones know how to do research so their manuscripts are authentic. If writers only write what they “know” then pretty much all books would have main characters who are struggling writers trying to get published.

  7. natalie said:

    Rock on, Julie! 🙂 This post was great. I interned at a publishing company during college to get a better understanding of how writing worked from that perspective. Occasionally I had the mother load of interny jobs – like making endless copies, fannying about the press releases (as B. Jones says), and running to a different building in stilts/heels to get a signature. Once I had to get a giant cardboard cutout of an author made. The author specified the way she wanted it done (so people at her book signings could have their pics made with the cardboard cut out. Seriously. :). I had some really fun tasks too though – being able to sit down and chat with editors about the writing process in general was probably my favorite part. I think being able to see everything behind the curtain gave me a whole new perspective on writing. That summer encouraged me to be more genuine, and helped me understand how to be more professional. My boss that summer was really great at keeping me in the loop on everything going on too. So congrats on landing an amazing internship and best of luck with your writing career. By the looks of this swanky post, you’re off to a great start! 🙂

  8. AC said:

    Thanks, Julie! I love blog posts like this. Best of luck with your own writing. Judging from your post, I’d say you’re already pretty fabulous.

  9. Jean said:

    Excellent advice Julie. You are a step and a half ahead of many writers already.

    Best of luck with your future writing.

    Did you get any free books or get to meet some writers?


  10. DebraLSchubert said:

    Kristin, Thanks so much for interviewing your intern, Julie. Her perspective is interesting and informative to those of us as yet unpublished writers. If this is how she is writing in high school, something tells me she just might have a very successful career as an author ahead of her! And, one more thing… Hurray for Barack Obama and for America!

  11. ink and beans said:

    Lord, I wish I wrote that well when I was in high school — imagine how well I’d be writing now.

    And re: “complete your work” thank you for confirming my suspicion that the process of rewriting, revising, and polishing my current manuscript will never, ever, ever end!

    I heard there are agents out there who will happily revise your work for you, and some who will even write the last ten or twenty pages if you’re struggling with the ending. Not true? 🙂